Thum Ping Tjin

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Thum Ping Tjin
Dr Thum Ping Tjin, Asia Research Institute, NUS, Singapore, 2013.jpg
Dr Thum Ping Tjin delivering a lecture at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore, on 17 September 2013
Born 17 December 1979
Nationality Singapore Singaporean
Other names PJ Thum
Alma mater University of Oxford, Harvard University
Organization Project Southeast Asia, University of Oxford

Thum Ping Tjin (born 17 December 1979), sometimes referred to as PJ, is the co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia, University of Oxford. He is the first Singaporean to swim the English Channel. He is also the first Oxford University graduate student to do so. He was a member of the Singapore national swimming team and has represented Singapore at every level, including the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.


PJ was born on 17 December 1979 in Singapore. He received his early education at five of the Anglo-Chinese Schools. At the age of 16, he went to Harvard College. He graduated from Harvard in the year 2000 with a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies. Thum has participated in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta as a member of the Singapore national swimming team. That same year, he was awarded the Sportsboy of the Year award by the Singapore Sports Council. As a Rhodes Scholar he attended Hertford College at the University of Oxford, reading for a second bachelor's degree in Modern History and Politics. He was Captain of the Oxford University Swimming Team and earned two Blues.

Thum retired in 2002 from representing his country but continued to represent the University of Oxford. His younger brother, Thum Bingming, is also a member of the Singapore national swimming team, as well as a Member of the Cornell University Men's Varsity swim team.

In early 2005, PJ was a teacher at Anglo-Chinese School (International) in Singapore. PJ later returned to Oxford on a Commonwealth Scholarship, where he completed a DPhil in Modern History at Hertford College. From 2006 to 2007, he was also a Frewin Warden at Brasenose College.

From 2012 to 2014, PJ Thum was a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.[1] Since 2014, PJ is a Research Associate at the Centre for Global History, University of Oxford; a Fellow of Green Templeton College, and coordinator of Project Southeast Asia, an initiative of the University of Oxford to expand its range of scholarly expertise on Southeast Asia.[2] In 2015, PJ was elected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.[3]

Channel Swim[edit]

In July 2004, PJ decided to swim the channel after successfully participating in the 2004 Cross-Channel Varsity Match. PJ was trying to swim in August 2005, and he trained in Singapore throughout the year leading up to the event. In June 2005, he left for the United Kingdom to train further. PJ plunged into the cold waters of the Channel on 6 August, a few days later than expected due to stormy conditions, as the weather looked calm. Things changed three hours later, the weather became worse but still PJ did not give up and continued. He successfully reached the coast of France after 12 hours and 24 minutes - the first Singaporean to do so, and the first Oxford graduate as well.[4] After his swim, PJ returned to Oxford to continue his studies.

Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods[edit]

In March 2018, Thum submitted a paper to the Select Committee which accused the ruling PAP and Lee Kuan Yew of using falsehoods in 1963 in Operation Coldstore to arrest and detain without trial more than 100 alleged leaders and trade unionists alleged to be part of a communist conspiracy to overthrow the Singapore government - on the grounds of national security. Thum contends that there is no evidence in Special Branch documents to support it and that the operation was conducted for political purposes.

When Law Minister K Shanmugam, a member of the Select Committee, noted that Thum's account ran contrary to various historical and other established researchers, Thum admitted that there were parts of the paper which he could have worded better and that some of his statements were misleading and that he had not read nor bother to quote many of the accounts of some communist leaders as he felt that those accounts were unreliable. This included the first-hand accounts of the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Malaya.[5]

This led Shanmugam to remark that Thum had fallen short of the standards of an objective historian - who "ignores evidence which you don't like, you ignore and suppress what is inconvenient and in your writings you present quite an untrue picture."[6] Thum disagreed with K Shanmugam, insisting that since his paper was published in 2013, it has been peer-reviewed and "thus far, no historian has come out and contradicted the central thrust of my work."[7]

Thum claimed in his submission that he is a Research Fellow in History at Oxford University and subsequently during the hearings - a ‘visiting professorship’ in Anthropology and other titles. This prompted the Parliament Secretariat to write to him for a final clarification. Following media enquires, Oxford University replied that Thum is a visiting research associate with its School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, and not an employee of the school or university; specifically he is based outside the university in the Fertility and Reproduction Studies Group, an affiliate of the school. (A Fellowship is a recognized academic position in a host University whereas a Visiting Fellow is a transient researcher/scholar who visits the university to conduct research work. Using the library of the university is one such privilege.[8]

On 1 May 2018, The chairman of the Select Committee released a statement with attached emails between two trustees of Project Southeast Asia that appear to be inadvertently copied to the select committee and other trustees, but not to Thum himself. The statement noted the similarity between an anonymous Open Letter (released after the hearing on Deliberate Online Falsehoods) and another letter by the Project members, which suggests that Thum "may have had a hand in crafting" both to gain support for himself. It also express concern that Thum has been working with a foreign counterpart "to influence and subvert our parliamentary processes", with the intent to harm his own country.[9]


On 11 Apr 2018, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) notified Thum and Kirsten Han, an activist and freelance journalist, that their application (on 18 February 2018) to register a private company "OSEA Pte Ltd" has been rejected. ACRA deemed it to be "clearly political in nature" and contrary to Singapore’s national interests - OSEA was to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd (OSEA-UK). ACRA noted that OSEA-UK has received a US$75,000 grant from Foundation Open Societies Institute (FOSI), a charitable foundation closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), which was founded by George Soros. OSF in turn, was established to pursue a global political agenda, with a history of involvement in the domestic politics of sovereign countries. The local OSEA application proposed to organise "Democracy Classroom" sessions, workshops and events in Singapore.[10]

On 1 May 2018, the Select Committee chairman further revealed that Thum and Dr Kreager - both trustees of Oxford's "Project Southeast Asia" - are listed as directors and shareholders of OSEA-UK on the British government's company registry.[11]


  • Living with Myths in Singapore (with Loh Kah Seng and Jack Chia, eds.). Singapore: Ethos, 2017.
  • “The Malayan vision of Lim Chin Siong: Unity, Non-Violence, and Popular Sovereignty,“ Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Vol 18, No 3 (2017).
  • ‘The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”, Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia. ARI Working Paper Series 211.
  • “The New Normal is the Old Normal: Lessons from Singapore’s History of Dissent,” in Donald Low (ed.), Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus. Singapore: NUS Press (2014).
  • “Flesh and Bone Reunited As One Body: Singapore’s Chinese-Speaking and their Perspectives on Merger”, in Hong, Lysa and Poh, Soo Kai (eds.), The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years. Kuala Lumpur: Strategic Institute of Research and Development (2013).
  • “Flesh and Bone Reunited As One Body: Singapore’s Chinese-Speaking and their Perspectives on Merger”, Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies Vol 5 (2011 – 12).
  • “The Politics of Southeast Asian History,” IIAS Newsletter 62 (Winter 2012).
  • “The Limitations of Monolingual History,” in Tarling, Nicholas (ed.), Studying Singapore’s Past: C.M. Turnbull and the History of Modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, 2012: 1 – 18.
  • “Constance Mary Turnbull, 1927-2008,” in Tarling, Nicholas (ed.), Studying Singapore’s Past: C.M. Turnbull and the History of Modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, 2012: 98 – 120.
  • “‘Living Buddha’: Chinese perspectives on David Marshall and his government, 1955-56”, Indonesia and the Malay World, Vol 38, Issue 113 (July 2011).
  • “Chinese newspapers in Singapore, 1945 – 1963: Mediators of elite and popular tastes in culture and politics”, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol 83, Part 1 (June 2010).


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